Besides demonstrating that I’m a rather proud member of #Chaconation, you should look carefully to see the delightful white bird poop on my foot. That was from a swallow that swooped within a inch or two of my head. If you stand in one place long enough, the swallows who harvest insects from the pond near my house begin to treat you like a non-threatening inanimate object. They will often come very close to me if I do not move a muscle.
I went to the beautiful greenspace that surrounds a water retention pond near my house this afternoon just to see the swallows. I wait each year for the swallows to return. Watching them is like a big reset button for my heart.
And did I need a reset today! My delight is to coach pastors. It is privileged work. It can also be heavy work always wrestling at the same time with matters of the Kingdom, the heart, relationships, and tactics needed for the challenges of the moment. Today’s conversations centered on rather common issues for pastors, excessive expectations, stress, and navigating relational boundaries.
My tendency — like many in the helping professions — is to empathically feel the weight of the issues of those I am seeking to help. This is good! We are taught in Galatians 6:2 to, “Bear one another’s burdens…” This is what pastors do all the time. But we should not miss that this “bearing” is costly. It costs every time you do it. That does not mean you should stop doing it. But it may mean some swallow poop could be good for you like it is for me.
Why do I go see the swallows? It is my attempt to follow Jesus’ direction to, “Look at the birds of the air…” (Matt 6:26ff) Why does Jesus direct us to observe avians? He highlights specifically the Father’s direct, individual care for them. As a swallow swoops down and snaps up a delicate (and evidently tasty!) Boreal Bluet damselfly, she experiences her Heavenly Father’s provision.
And swoop she does! Swallows are incredibly quick, agile, and efficient hunters. As insectivores who eat on the wing, they have no choice if they are to realize the provision their Father has made for them. They also look like they are having fun! They look like what I term “free”.
When we use the word “free” generally speaking we refer to someone not being captive. Perhaps it is helpful to think about “free from” and “free to”. The swallows I enjoy feel both.
Let’s consider how they are “free from” first. They are free from envy. I do not see our pond’s swallows lingering about jammering about how they wish they were a nimbly swimming mallard, a loud but beautiful red-wing blackbird, or an ambling crow (Or was that a raven? I never can tell unless I get a good look at the beak!) In fact, every one of God’s creatures besides people — it seems — are free from envy. They are content to be who they are not who they are not.
Let me briefly note something here that we’ll explore in subsequent posts. Wanting to be someone you’re not is a prison. “Owning” who you are is key to freedom AND fruitfulness. God designed you to bear a certain kind of fruit through a certain kind of work (that’s the lesson of Matthew 25 and the parable of the talents). When we seek to bear someone else’s fruit, it’s no wonder we get frustrated and get wrapped up inside of ourselves. Watch the freedom of the birds (it’s fun!) and ask God to give you freedom from envy.
Do you know what is awesome about being “free from”? It fosters being “free to.”
It must be fun to be a swallow. Or a Boreal Bluet. Or an otter. Or a Lingcod. But sometimes it does not feel fun to be me. Most of the time when it is not fun to be me it is because I have become captive again. Mostly I get captive to thinking that everything rises or falls on me. I take on the weight of the world, a weight I was not made to bear. My avian friends feel no such weight. Is that why they appear weightless fluttering about? What makes them so light on the wing?
Our barn swallows feel free to be themselves and to enjoy being who their Heavenly Father made them to be. They frolic without a care it seems (well maybe if our resident Peregrine Falcon is around they might become wary but he was nowhere to be found today). How wonderful would that be? Could I get me some of that? Is it possible for humans to be free to that kind of life?
I believe this is why God directs our attention to the birds, the lilies, the grass of the field. The grass? In Matthew 6:30, Jesus changes from the word from “lilies” (in 6:28) to “grass” (at least that’s how we translate two different Greek words Jesus uses into English). And then Jesus talks about how ephemeral the grass is, here today, burned as fire starter tomorrow. And God clothes something that transient individually?!
That contrast is meant to be striking. And it can’t be seen looking at my steal of a deal HP 24” LCD monitor with built in speakers. It can only be seen “out there” in the world God created. Those around me — Allan, Flourish’s Director of Operations and my wonderful wife Julianne — remind me, “Matt, get outside. Go to the pond. Go on your prayer walk along the water.” BTW, I can’t wait to write about and show you via video from that spot, you won’t believe it!
How do you get out in Creation and have God hit your reset button?
When I go to my pond, I go to see God’s care in living color. It is what I need to see. When I feel weighed down by the troubles of those I seek to help, I need to see the carefree flight of the swallow. When I fear for my own provision (I lead a non-profit in the midst of COVID....), I need to see a lily adorned, crafted, standing tall and beautifully confident in the Father’s care. Don’t you also?